Peru: Protests Turn Violent after President’s Impeachment

By Maria Sole Campinoti, BA History & Politics

The impeachment of President of the Republic of Peru Martin Vizcarra on 9 November has led to weeks of turbulence and protests. The country saw the dismantling of its elected government and three Presidents take charge between 9 and 17 of November. 

‘The last couple of weeks have been extremely turbulent and tempestuous for Peru as the country has seen its elected government dismantle, flocks of protests invade the streets of the Andean country, and three Presidents take charge in just one week.’

After taking office in March 2018, Vizcarra obtained nationwide support due to his political credibility. Before becoming president he had served as Vice-President, Minister of Transportation, and Governor of the region of Moquegua. He was also admired for his tough policies aimed at ending Peru’s crippling corruption. After being elected, the centrist Vizcarra held a nationwide referendum to challenge corruption that was approved and hailed as a milestone for Peruvian democracy. 

Despite support for Vizcarra, there was fierce competition between him and his political opponents. On 18 September 2020, Vizcarra was impeached for the first time. The accusers, made up of lawmakers and captained by Edgar Alarcon, failed to remove Vizcarra from office with only 32 votes out of 130 cast in favour. 

Vizcarra was accused of moral incapacity following concerns regarding a contract between singer Richard Cisnernos and the ministry of culture, for which Cisnernos was hired to perform speeches. The accusation stated that Cisnernos’ $50,000 salary was inexplicably high unless the singer had some ties with the government or if the contract included hidden bribes. Vizcarra denied these claims. 

Though Vizcarra survived the first impeachment proceedings, attacks on his government continued. The COVID-19 pandemic hit Peru particularly hard, with almost 36,000 people having died from the disease. The country faces an economic recession, as its GDP is expected to shrink 13% compared to the previous year. In the metropolitan area of Lima, more than 3.2 million people have become unemployed. 

Subsequently, lawmakers of nine opposition parties accused Vizcarra of accepting bribes up to 2.3 million Peruvian Soles (about £487,000) when he was Governor of Moquegua. Claiming ‘moral unfitness,’ the accusing lawmakers asked once again for his impeachment.  While Vizcarra maintained his innocence and claimed that he was a victim of false accusations, on 9 November 2020 Congress voted for his removal from office with 105 votes in favour and just 19 against. 

The impeachment of Vizcarra triggered Peruvians to mobilize and to protest in the name of their President and their democracy. Protests took place in cities throughout Peru including the capital Lima, Cusco, Cajamarca, and Trujillo. There were also demonstrations in New York and London. 

Protests further intensified after 10 November when Manuel Merino was named new President of Peru. In addition to supporting Vizcarra’s impeachment, Merino is regarded by many Peruvians as corrupt and anti-democratic, leading to the escalation of mass protests. 

On 14 November, in the capital Lima, peaceful protests became violent when a group of protestors began to throw rocks and fireworks at the police. This resulted in the death of two young men, aged 24 and 25, and many injuries. Merio resigned from office on 15 November due to increasingly violent protests and a lack of credibility. Francisco Sagasti became President 17 November, vowing to unite the country after the days of civil unrest following Vizcarra’s impeachment. 

Sagasti is now faced with an extremely challenging task; not only will he have to restore order after the protests, but he will also have to prove to Peruvians that he will be the right man to guide them through an uncertain future for the country. 

Photo Caption: Demonstrations against the new President Manuel Merino on November 14, 2020 (Credit: ERNESTO BENAVIDES / AFP).

Post Author: The SOAS Spirit

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